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Finding Purpose in Retirement: Are You Retiring “To” Something or Merely “From” Something?

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When we at AgingOptions ask people why they want to retire, we often hear a familiar laundry list of reasons. They may not like their job, or their boss. They may be tired of the 8-to-5 routine or weary of the long commute. They might be fed up with the house they live in or the winter weather in their city. In short, the reasons many people give for wanting to quit the workaday world once and for all often have more to do with retiring “from” something.

But the real question is, what are these folks retiring “to”?

Merely Retiring “From” Something Can Be a Big Mistake

Because we are such believers in a purposeful retirement, we were drawn to this very recent article from USA Today about the particular need for retirees to find purpose in their lives. “If you’re like many would-be retirees, you’ll likely ‘retire from’ something – a job or boss you hate – and not ‘to something,’” says the article. “That’s a big mistake.” The thrust of the USA Today article is that, without some over-arching purpose to guide them in retirement, many retirees find it difficult if not impossible to cope with the decline in self-esteem they feel when they leave the workplace. “If you retire from something and not to something, there’s a good chance you’ll be returning to work,” says the article, which is exactly what happens with about one-third of retirees. Some become bored, and some had not planned adequately for their income needs. “However,” says author and financial expert Brad Pistole, “one of the greatest reasons involves the loss of self-worth one feels when they no longer provide the service they did to other people when they were working. This loss can leave a great void in a person’s life.”

If you are a regular reader of the AgingOptions blog or a frequent listener to Rajiv Nagaich on the radio, the appeal of this article should come as no surprise. Our belief is that retirement should be one of the most fruitful and satisfying periods of our lives – not merely a chance to quit work and hang up the briefcase, the toolbelt or the stethoscope in order do nothing for the rest of your life. Indeed, having walked the journey of retirement alongside thousands of individuals and couples, we understand the huge adjustment that happens when regular work stops.  “Work gives us a reason to be get up every day,” says one financial planner quoted in the USA Today article. “Most of us are working in some capacity for an organization that has a greater good, helps others, makes things people need or where people count on us.”  So how can you make sure you use your “post-career” retirement time wisely? What will compel you to get out of bed each morning?

Some Good Things to Retire “To”

The USA Today article has some suggestions on finding purpose in retirement, and while none of them is surprising, we hope they’ll prompt your thought process and maybe become part of your New Year’s Resolutions in 2019. Here’s our paraphrase of some of the article’s ideas.

  • A Written Plan: This is the most important piece of advice, we think, from USA Today. The article focuses entirely on a financial plan, but emphasizing money alone is a completely inadequate approach in our view. Along with saving, investing, and cutting debt, your plan needs to include housing choices, medical coverage, legal protection and family relationships. Read on and we’ll tell you more
  • A Compelling Purpose: “Humans continue to thrive when they have a purpose and are still learning,” said one planner in the article. “When we ask a pre-retiree what they’ll do when they retire, and they respond with ‘golf,’ it’s a good indicator that they are not prepared.” Spend a good amount of time considering the contribution you can make after you retire.
  • A Worthy Cause: “Research shows giving your time, efforts and talents to a worthy cause is one of the most fulfilling things you can do in life,” says USA Today. Volunteering at faith-based or civic organizations is a great place to start. Many retirees later find that their managerial skills can be put to good use working with non-profit community service groups who truly need the help. Consider volunteering to serve on a non-profit board.
  • A New Pursuit: As Joseph Coughlin of the Age Lab at MIT said, “Retirement is no longer a short time of grandchildren, smiles and cruises.” Instead, “it is a very long time – one-third of your adult life. Being engaged and purposeful at any age is key to maintaining social connection and wellbeing.” His advice is for retirees to start discovering and exploring something new today, especially while still working. Perhaps that job you always wanted to try can become a passion in your retirement years.

Be Intentional in Retirement Planning

These are just a few of several recommendations from USA Today, but they all have the common theme of being intentional in planning for your retirement. If we have a criticism of the article, besides its narrow focus on money, it’s that it seems to lack focus, veering all over the topic of purposeful retirement and overlooking the elements that we think matter most. As we said above, a truly comprehensive retirement plan needs to include your finances, your health coverage, your housing preferences, your legal protection and your family relationships – precisely the elements we include as part of an AgingOptions LifePlan. With a LifePlan in place, you can experience a retirement that is both fruitful and secure, knowing you’ll be able to protect your assets, avoid becoming a burden to those you love, and escape being forced against your will into institutional care. There’s no other retirement plan that can do all that.

To find out more, without cost or obligation, join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar. These popular events are held throughout the region, so register here for the seminar date and time of your choice, or call our office during the week. Let us be your guide toward the retirement you’ve always hoped for. Age on!

(originally reported at


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